There was a time when Indianapolis’ claim to being America’s “Motor City” seemed every bit as strong as Detroit’s. Sure, Detroit had Henry Ford and his Model T, but Indy had Duesenberg and Stutz and Marmon and National and others who specialized in luxury vehicles, plus a group of major, what now would be referred to as Tier I automotive industry suppliers. And just up various Indiana roads were Auburn and Cord and Studebaker and Haynes and Lexington.
And while the Chevrolet brand of cars were made in Michigan, the Chevrolet name that made those cars appealing was made in Indianapolis, at that city’s “Brickyard,” the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Chevrolet brothers Louis, Gaston and Arthur raced to fame. But don’t forget, the track was built as much as a year-around proving ground for Indy’s budding auto industry as it was for racing 500 miles once a year.
Four years ago, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which houses one of the world’s best classic car collections in its Hall of Fame and Museum (if you think The Vault beneath the Petersen Automotive Museum is something, you should talk your way into the basement of the IMS museum), began staging an annual event — The Celebration of Automobiles — to showcase classic cars and the city’s automotive as well as motorsports heritage. The fourth annual Celebration is scheduled for the May 8-10 weekend.
The focus for the event is cars produced between 1910 and 1970. The actual Vintage and Classic Car Show, with judges awarding honors in a concours d’elegance-style list of classes, is May 10.
A special emphasis this year is cars built in Indiana. New this year are classes for open-wheel race cars, Indy 500 pace cars and 1910-70 motorcycles. Also new is an automotive-artists pavilion.
Four-time Indy 500 winner Al Unser Sr. will serve as honorary head judge for the show and will determine which car gets the Driver’s Choice Award.
“I’ve loved everything about cars since I was a kid,” Unser said in a Speedway news release. “It’s going to be so exciting to evaluate all of these incredible vehicles and learn their stories from their owners at a place that has meant so much to me and my family for more than 50 years.”
The Celebration of Automobiles is being held the same weekend as the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis IndyCar Series race on the Speedway’s revised road course. The Grand Prix is designed to kick off the month that culminates with the 98th Indianapolis 500 on May 25.
As part of the Celebration weekend, classic car owners can drive their own cars on the famed Speedway track. The weekend also includes a driving tour in central and southern Indiana, an awards dinner with Indy racing stars, and a question-answer session featuring Unser and track historian Donald Davidson.